No. 6 - Nov. 1996
Vol. 44 - pp. 30-33

The Kyrgyz Republic and NATO:
A formula for cooperation

Ambassador Djoumakadyr Atabekov
Adviser to the Presidency of the Kyrgyz Republic

Amb. Atabekov

The Kyrgyz Republic was one of the first CIS countries to embark on a cooperative relationship with NATO and it remains one of the most active partners. The country is participating in various activities with the Alliance, including a number of PfP peacekeeping exercises. The Kyrgyz Republic sees cooperation with NATO not only as beneficial to security and stability in the region but also as a buttress for its internal political and economic reforms.

"From regional security to global peace" is the formula proposed by the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, Askar Akayev. This is the path along which the process of international security, mutual understanding and cooperation among nations should develop in the future.

The Kyrgyz Republic, a member state of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), recognizes the importance of participating in these cooperative processes for the present and future generations of its people. In our view, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are the main institutions in this process and of the entire European security architecture. We have seen the stature of both organizations rise in recent times.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and of the socialist structures in Europe prepared the ground for the evolutionary development of our relations with NATO. This process, which developed between NATO and the states of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), the Baltics, and the CIS nations, radically altered the old stereotype views of NATO held by these nations, making it possible for them to take a fresh look at the Alliance.

NATO enlargement

As we look more closely at NATO's internal evolution, and as its eventual enlargement moves up on the European security agenda, we can discern certain trends from our perspective in Central Asia.

  1. NATO's enlargement should be seen in the context of a global process of cooperation and integration and not as a unilateral act by NATO which ignores the great changes that have occurred in Europe. The real issue here is the mutual cooperation which has developed between the Alliance and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the Baltics and the countries of the CIS, although the Russian Federation is now a separate issue.

  2. The decision of certain of the CEE states to seek membership of NATO - and of the CIS countries to become its cooperation partners - is a sovereign decision, based on the generally accepted norms of international practice and which enjoys the respect of the international community. Any other interpretation of this decision would conflict with this sovereign right and transgress those norms.

  3. These countries, working against the political background of their own national way of thinking, are engaged in a new international political arena, and increasingly active in international relations. They are discovering for themselves the benefits which derive from cooperation with NATO, in terms of helping to consolidate their democratic reforms and bolstering political stability and security in the region.

  4. An important factor for the newly independent states in this relationship is the shedding of decades of systematic propaganda which asserted that "NATO was the eternal enemy". This propaganda was successfully kept incandescent by the flame of ideology, encouraging the arms race and the development of military doctrines such as 'deterrence', 'restraint', 'balancing', 'détente', and so on. Hence NATO is benefitting from a qualitative reappraisal of its role and significance on the part of the revived democracies.

  5. For the Kyrgyz Republic, the deepening partnership with NATO is dictated by a number of international and regional factors, including the dynamic character of current events and the unpredictability of their impact on the political situation within the country. To this should be added the impact of the increasing flow of refugees, the spread of the drugs trade and the problems caused by our internal socio-economic situation. In this context, our individual partnership programme with NATO represents a qualitative step forward.

This new era of shared progress and the dynamics of the evolving situation imply forms of cooperation other than membership, the basis of which remains, for us, the need for domestic and regional stability and security, and for socio-economic progress based on democratic reforms. As the relationship between NATO and the newly independent states is gradually fleshed out, its appeal will surely grow.

Kyrgyz attitudes

Otunbayera & Danenov
Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Rosa Otunbayera (right) sits next to Ambassador N.J. Danenov of Kazakhstan during the Ministerial Meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Berlin last June.
(NATO photo 19Kb)
Having won independence and sovereignty and, accordingly, membership of the United Nations, the OSCE and other international organizations and institutions, the new democratic government of the Kyrgyz Republic, headed by President Akayev, took what was then the unusual step of approaching NATO with a view to developing closer relations. It then became apparent that the syndrome mentioned earlier - NATO as the "eternal enemy" - was actually a glaring example of the geopolitical egocentrism of the former Soviet leadership. Indeed, it had pursued the fundamental goal of keeping the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe and of the Soviet Republics within the bounds of pro-Communist ideology, far beyond the horizon of any possible rapprochement with NATO.

The possibilities of cooperating with NATO in the non-military field were never explored. An impenetrable curtain was drawn and the very idea of mutually beneficial relations was rejected out of hand. Nevertheless, as the Eastern saying goes, "Society changes every 50 years", and along with it stubborn preconceptions and stereotypes also change. All kinds of ideological taboos have now disappeared, and hidden areas have opened up. National feelings which had been artificially (indeed, forcefully) restrained burst into the open.

The process of opening up NATO was initiated by its former adversaries. The Kyrgyz Republic was one of the very first CIS countries (excluding the Baltic countries) to set out on this path towards cooperation with NATO. Today, my country is regarded by NATO officials as the most active and perhaps the most receptive partner of all the CIS countries. The reason for this can be found in the history and culture of the Kyrgyz nation, and in the political system that has resulted.

As President Akayev said in his speech for the 70th anniversary of the Kyrgyz autonomous region, historical evidence shows that the Kyrgyz people were "the creator and preserver of many ancient Turkic political institutions such as the division between the military and civilian administration, the election of monarchs, the general mobilization in the event of danger from the outside, and many others".

At the same time, when the great epic of the Kyrgyz people, "Manas" was composed (its 1000th anniversary was widely celebrated in 1995, inspiring a United Nations resolution in commemoration of the event), the time when the Great Silk Road flourished, many cultures and religions from Europe and the Mediterranean to India and China, merchants and missionaries of various creeds, poets and courtiers of different nationalities, dervishes and ordinary people, met and mingled peacefully on the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic. The court of the supreme Kyrgyz ruler was visited by diplomats from Byzantium, Persia, India, China and the Arab countries. Thus, for centuries contacts and relationships were established between visiting peoples and cultures and the local population, helping the Kyrgyz to adapt readily to new situations, to be tolerant of different ideas, to cope with daily adversity, and to live in peace and harmony in their own society and with other peoples.

It is worth noting that the unanimous adoption by the United Nations of the resolution on this epic is due largely to the similarity between these precepts and the aims and ideals of the United Nations itself.

In the modern period, the Kyrgyz people, as President Akayev observed, "have absorbed, perhaps more intensively than our neighbours in the region, various strands of civilization; this is a phenomenon which we cannot ignore. In a word, we, the Kyrgyz people, can now call ourselves Eurasians. Not, perhaps, in terms of our origins, but in terms of our recent history and, above all, in our social inclinations."

The Kyrgyz Republic's national sense of tolerance and ready adaptability to the world around, fostered by sound political leadership and by the country's sensitivity to national characteristics within its multi-ethnic society (made up of more than 80 nationalities) enable it to maintain popular consent and political stability, which are the chief conditions for carrying out democratic reforms.

The absence of any large-scale military-industrial complex in this small, poor, peace-loving Republic, coupled with the current economic crisis, are the key factors behind the Krygyz Republic's focus on the civilian sphere in its cooperation with NATO. Nevertheless, military contacts and cooperation are not necessarily ruled out.

Through increased contacts and cooperation between NATO and the Kyrgyz Republic over the last two years, we have gained a clearer understanding of one another. We are grateful for the favourable attitude towards our country which has been displayed by NATO and by its individual member states.

A number of high-level political and military contacts, including visits by senior NATO, US and other officials to Bishkek, have created favourable conditions for expanding the exchange of contacts between specialists and experts in both government and parliament. In June 1995 and May 1996, a delegation of Kyrgyz military and government representatives visited NATO headquarters to familiarize themselves with NATO's activities and the framework for cooperation.

Several joint seminars have also been held, including the first NATO regional seminar to be held in the CIS, "Planning for civilian emergencies and civilian-military cooperation" which was organized in Bishkek last June.

On the eve of the intensified dialogue with Partners, NATO's Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs, Ambassador Gebhardt von Moltke, made an observation which to us was quite pertinent. He proposed raising issues of a specific interest for the Partners, including those which are regarded as "sensitive", such as problems of social security, environmental protection, civil emergency planning, conversion of defence industries to civilian production, the improvement of basic infrastructures in science and education, technical and vocational training and retraining for skilled workers, etc. In short, these issues are relevant to the processes of consolidating the foundations of democracy, pursuing economic reforms, securing good-neighbourly relations within the region, as well as establishing civilian control over the military.

In the framework of Partnership for Peace, there are plans for the Kyrgyz Republic to take part in dozens of peacekeeping exercises, including "Cooperative Osprey 96", with the financial assistance of NATO member states. These exercises enhance the level and quality of training in the Central Asian Plateau, bringing us closer to modern standards for peacekeeping operations. They also help to support existing working relations and create new ones, including among the General Staffs of the other PfP countries.

NATO and the OSCE complement one another, and this enables the Kyrgyz Republic, as a Eurasian state, to participate openly in the context of European security and cooperation. In this connection, as well as participating in regular OSCE deliberations, valuable cooperation has been established with the George C. Marshall Center for Security Studies, in Garmisch, Germany, which sponsors various activities relevant to the problems of Central Asia.

Along these lines, the first one of a series of international conferences took place in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, from 12 to 17 August 1996, on the theme of "regional stability and security in Central Asia".

Cooperative Osprey '96
Troops board a Sea Knight helicopter at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina (USA) during the PfP exercise Cooperative Osprey '96 last August, which included Kyrgyz participation.
(NATO photo 26Kb)

Regional stability

A similar conference was held in April 1996 in Bishkek, focusing on a number of important issues influencing stability in the Kyrgyz Republic and in the region as a whole, such as: environmental degradation, high population growth accompanied by intensive water and land use, recurrent irregularities at certain border areas, the drugs trade, and the geopolitical situation of Central Asia between the two nuclear states of the Russian Federation and China, defined as a zone of 'heightened risk'.

The problem of the Tajik-Afghan border was mentioned as a matter of special concern.

In our view, two particularly persuasive and specific conclusions of the conference are worthy of attention:

  • Central Asia as a whole cannot yet be regarded as a stable and secure region;

  • The time has come for the Kyrgyz Republic to have its own strategy for national security, a fundamental goal to be attained by reinforcing the economic security of the country and stabilizing its socio-economic development.

    I am confident that in the course of the current period of reform, President Akayev will succeed in preserving political stability in the Kyrgyz Republic and in neutralizing persistent economic problems, so that a gradual process of renewal can at last begin. In the foreseeable future, Kyrgyz policy towards NATO will be pursued with this goal in mind.

    NATO offers promising prospects for the foreign policy activities of the Kyrgyz Republic, both in supporting political stability and inter-ethnic harmony in the region, and in advancing democratic and market reforms.

    The existence of political stability in the Kyrgyz Republic, coupled with its unswerving pursuit of socio-economic change, respect for human rights, and political and religious freedom, is recognized by the international community and by NATO itself, and is a weighty argument in favour of continued progress in this direction.

    Nevertheless, the Central Asian region as a whole is vulnerable, and the unpredictable situation here can easily veer out of control, destabilizing other regions and continents. NATO Secretary General Javier Solana intends to visit the region in the future. On that occasion, the Kyrgyz Republic will be able to demonstrate how it is making a practical contribution in maintaining political stability and harmony for its people and for Central Asia in general.

    The Kyrgyz Republic is fully aware of the value of maintaining the closest possible cooperation with NATO on the basis of regular Representation at the Organization's headquarters which would substantially increase the effectiveness of our cooperation. This question is now under active consideration by the Kyrgyz Government.

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